Monday, 2 May 2011

Project 16: Exploring function

So far, I have to admit to feeling underwhelmed by the ‘Buildings and spaces’ section of the course.  I can’t quite put a finger on why, but it may be that I havn’t found too many interesting/stimulating buildings or spaces to photograph; or alternatively, that I have not yet got myself fully engaged with the subject. However, I have been working on it over the last couple of weeks.  I started out looking at this project in a domestic context, but I have also been looking ahead to Assignment Three & photographing some other potential buildings and spaces, one of which I thought might fit well into the context of this project – Huddersfield Queensgate Market.  There is a bit of history here, which might come out again in the assignment; but, here it is in brief.  Huddersfield used to have an old Victorian Market Hall, which was replaced in 1970 by the current Queensgate Market Hall.  Some argued at the time, I believe, that it was a tragedy to lose the character of the old building, even though I’ve also seen it described as soot-covered and dominating the local environment.  They almost certainly did not like its replacement, which was an ‘iconic’ contemporary building with unique architectural features and specially commissioned artwork on both the inside and outside walls.  That building was itself threatened by redevelopment in the last ten or so years, but survived, and is championed by a pressure group looking to preserve its unique qualities.

Now, this project is about function, not architecture, so what might be the primary functions of a Market Hall?

·         Provide a flexible and convenient space in which trading can take place;

·         Make it easy for traders to bring in and display their goods, at relatively low cost and with minimum ‘fuss’ on a daily basis, if necessary;

·         Attract customers to visit easily and regularly to view the goods on display;

·         Provide a convivial atmosphere in which successful interaction between trader and customer can take place.

The project asks for a personal opinion of how effective the selected building/space is in delivering its function, so I havn’t been canvassing opinion, just looking at it and forming my own judgement.  Having visited a few times in the last month or so, I have to express my doubts about it, certainly in a contemporary context – and that is mostly based on the observation that there don’t seem to be large numbers of people in there buying goods.  It is a large, well-lit, clean and modern-feeling space.  Whilst I get the impression that there is a turnover of traders (evidenced by the occasional mis-match between signage and what is on sale, as well as by some empty spaces), it is, on the whole, well-stocked with a variety of goods (though relatively little in the way of fresh produce).  But, there are very few people around buying anything.  Positioned on the edge of the town centre, just inside the ring road, it is, I would think, convenient for the traders to access, and there is a public car park attached, so consumers don’t have any difficulty either, albeit there is no obviously inviting public entrance to draw people in.  The frontage onto the ring road is much photographed for its artwork, but it is essentially a solid wall with sculptures on it rather than an invite for the consumer.  And the inside has, to me, more in common with a sports hall than a retail space.  It lacks the intimacy and obvious hustle and bustle that I would associate with a market.

So the challenge is to sum that up in a single photograph.  Well, I’ve taken a few recently, and I think that some will feature in Assignment Three, but this, for me, illustrates my impressions most effectively.

I wanted to find an angle that would include some of the architectural features, simply because so much is made of them by those who praise the building.  For the record, they are ‘inverted freestanding rectangular asymmetric hyperbolic paraboloid umbrella shells in reinforced concrete’.  And I’m not making that up!  But, is it anything at all to do with encouraging a convivial atmosphere for market trading.  Or does it just make the same big open well-lit space that one could find in any modern out-of-town shed?  Look at the clean shiny floor – fantastic!  But there is just one customer around at about 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon!

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